Contemporary Retellings of Myths and Legends

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Contemporary Retellings of Myths and Legends

Ever since I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology in middle school, I've loved classic myths and legends. Talented author Rick Riordin writes fantastic books for kids based on classic mythology. His novels - inspired by Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology - offer a contemporary spin on these timeless stories.

While adults can certainly enjoy reading Rick Riordin's novels, there are plenty of authors adapting classic myths or retelling fables for an adult audience. In some cases, they are stories told from the perspective of an untraditional character. In others, they are the reinterpretation of classic stories told in clear, contemporary language.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
I admit that I may be biased because of my Scandinavian heritage, but I've always thought that Norse myths take an undeserved backseat to Greek and Roman mythology in terms of popular culture. Besides Wagner's The Ring cycle opera (and it's a stretch to say that those German operas are really mainstream popular culture), Norse myths don't get a lot of love. In Norse Mythology, however, Neil Gaiman gives Norse myths their due. He retells the classic stories from the creation of the nine worlds to their utter destruction in the future battle of Ragnarok. Along the way, he describes not only the brave deeds but also the jealous and treacherous exploits of gods, dwarves, and giants. Fiercely competitive and constantly at odds with one another, these gods make rash decisions for which they must often suffer the consequences. Brought together in one volume, these are fantastic stories retold by a master story teller.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
In Homer's account in The Odyssey, Penelope - wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy - is the faithful wife. While her husband Odysseus is off fighting the Trojan War for twenty years, Penelope keeps her kingdom together and remains faithful to her wayward husband despite the persistence of a large cadre of suitors. When Odysseus finally arrives home, Homer writes, he promptly kills Penelope's suitors along with twelve of her maids. The Penelopiad is the contemporary retelling of this old story by Penelope and her twelve hanged maids from beyond the grave. We learn what exactly did Penelope do all those lonesome years and why did those young, loyal maids get condemned to death.  

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
The gods of Olympus are alive, but their supernatural powers are weakening at an alarming rate. Eking out a living in modern London while living in a ramshackle London townhouse, Artemis contributes to the family finances as a dog walker, Dionysius owns a popular nightclub, and Apollo is a two-bit fortune teller on a cable television program. An argument between Apollo and Aphrodite draws two ordinary humans, Alice and Neil, into a godly lover's quarrel that threatens to end the human race. The world needs some heroes: are Alice and Neal up to the task?

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
A tough but soft-spoken ex-con named Shadow has his life shattered on the eve of his parole from prison. He's hired by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday to be a glorified errand boy and his work takes him on an epic, hallucinogenic zig zagging road trip across the United States. Along the way, Shadow meets all manner of gods - the old Norse, Russian, Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, Persian, African, Voodoo, and Native American gods and the powerful 21st century gods of Media, Internet and Drugs - who compete for human affection and worship. Neil Gaiman weaves anecdotes and details from classic mythology around the world into this meandering, beautiful novel. The result is an epic modern fantasy novel about the search for the heart and soul of America.

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Technically, a Young Adult novel, Oh. My. Gods. is a cute book in the chick-lit genre. High school track star, Phoebe's life turns upside down when her mom returns from Greece with a new husband and moves them to an island in the Aegean. Now Phoebe must attend the exclusive academy, where admission depends on heritage - that is, ancestry from Zeus, Hera, and other Greek gods. The Greek gods are real, not myth, and their talented, beautiful, superpower endowed descendants are now on Phoebe's track team! Motivated by an innate passion for running and the will to win, Phoebe carves our her own place in this world of the gods.